Faith versus Reason

Posted: September 9, 2009 in atheism, Christian, evolution, faith, science


After reading W.K. Clifford’s essay “The Ethics of Belief” and William James’s essay “The Will to Believe” I have been given the task of answering the following questions: 1) Is it always wrong to believe something for which one lacks sufficient evidence? And 2) Is “faith” inconsistent with critical thinking?

The first problem that arises out of these inquiries is the question of what is “sufficient” or what determines “sufficient evidence”? I would have to assert that determination of sufficiency is autonomous upon the person holding the belief and independent of an objective standard. Although it may be that only when a question or issue is resolved by careful examination of the evidence at hand, that a reasonable person should establish a belief about that issue. But establishing a belief on the evidence and determining the sufficiency of that evidence are both autonomous upon the believer. What is sufficient for one person, may not be sufficient for another. So to say that it is wrong to believe something based on insufficient evidence is to beg-the-question for the determination of sufficiency must be established to determine lack and where must the line be drawn? Therefore, I suggest that a reasonable person may hold a belief established with moral certainty based on the evidence that an alternative is not possible. The highest standard of proof for any belief must be that established beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, is it wrong to believe something when any doubt exists?

This brings me to address the second question regarding belief and logic. If faith is defined as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof” according to Webster’s Dictionary, then the answer would be that, yes, faith is inconsistent with critical thinking. I would argue, however, that absence of proof is not necessary to require faith. One can follow the evidence to where it leads beyond a reasonable doubt and a conclusion would still require a willingness to believe due to the nature of man’s incomplete knowledge. One hundred percent conclusive proof may not be available, but a belief may be drawn beyond a reasonable doubt based on the forensic evidence provided at the time. Science relies upon the allowance and acceptance of this type of faith.

Take the debate between evolution verses intelligent design for example. The evolutionist believes that the evidence shows conclusively that changes in organic design are controlled by random mutations and contingent selection. In other words, evolution is a fact such that all that exists is the natural. The intelligent design proponent insists that evolutionary theory lacks sufficient evidence to support such belief and is better explained by an intelligent cause. Who is right? Are both standing upon faith? Does reason to doubt evolutionary theory exist? For one, a fact does not change, while theory does. Science suggests that evolution is both a theory and a fact. ID proponents recognize the fact of evolution within species which they have dubbed micro-evolution, but argue the theory of evolution’s ability to explain the mechanism of evolution is insufficient since reasonable alternatives are available. One side insists that reasonable doubt exists the other does not. Can it be determined if one is wrong and the other right? The possibility must exist or the pursuit of truth of evolutionary theory would be futile.

If ID proponents refuse to believe evolutionary theory with moral certainty that an alternative is possible, are they wrong? If one believes that the origin of life and of the universe are best explained by an intelligent cause, rather than a random undirected process, do they hold this belief in spite of the proof or because of it? How can a being limited by the physical existence know with absolute certainty that nothing exists outside of the natural? Whether one believes evolution theory to be true or false, it is certain that one believes or disbelieves with an element of faith. The study of science exists because human knowledge is incomplete. And, as the human race moves from false beliefs to true, the mechanism of faith as a moral certainty of a belief is a necessary element of the critical thinking process.

  1. pelagian7 says:

    One problem, that exists for establishing a conclusion, is that most people don’t understand what it is they believe. What I mean is they make claims in absolutes, but questioned it becomes apparent that their belief is not what it seems. Science and religion have this same problem.

    Judgements and interpretations are based on other judgements. Evolution is a possibility, as are most facts, including religion.

    A friend of mine said she is 150% against abortion. I questioned her and she added a qualifier. “Well, if the baby is going to die anyway then it would be okay.”

    “What if they may be able to save the baby but the mother will die?”

    We went through several scenarios she had never considered. Her belief was beginning to crumble and the uncertainy caused her great distress. She ended the conversation and retreated to ignorance.


    • Nance says:

      You touch upon an element of the crisis of faith within the Christian community. When asked, few can tell you what they believe or why. In the instance of your abortion debate, would you agree that avoiding leading questions would be helpful in assisting someone in determining their beliefs? For instance ask, “If human life begins at conception, and it is wrong to end a human life without just cause, what would you consider a just cause?”

      • pelagian7 says:

        “If human life begins at conception, and it is wrong to end a human life without just cause, what would you consider a just cause?”

        You gave a good example. Many conclude human life begins at conception, but not all. Conception has only recently been understood, through science. So, your example is leading. And asking what is a “just cause” to someone familiar with only their own small locality or culture can lead to ignorant conclusions.

        I think we need to, truly, step into the shoes of another to judge their morality.

        Helping people in a faith crisis by not asking leading questions would be great. But it is nearly impossible, for a single person, because our brain softwear automatically leads.

        To not lead, get together three people from different religions and each answer the questions of the person struggling. Most people don’t want to do this, they want their faith confirmed, so they promote their religion only.

        Then, to back up their position, people quote scripture without understanding how those writings, and their interpretations even came about. Plus, every group has writings of their own.

        I understand the conventional Christian position. They base it on letters in the New Testament. But those letters, for example John, warns against the seekers of wisdom. The group he is likely talking about gained popularity around (140AD). The letter is either a forgery or Church fathers added the last part, (where the warning is at) to combat Marcion. Verses, such as “all scripture is God breathed”, need to be evaluated for the time. Back then any writing of religious nature was called God breathed. Therefore, that phrase doesn’t mean only the Bible, put together three hundred years later.

        Last but not least, Jesus warns us about the scribes and Pharisees. He calls them a brood of vipers. Vipers meant, symbolically, deceivers and evil doers. Scribes wrote scripture and Pharisees were literal, rigid interpreters of scripture. In the Gospels Jesus warns us not to trust scribes yet here we are, literally interpreting the writings of scribes, 2000 years later.

        I am not an athiest but a spiritualist, and seeker of the wisdom of both realms.

    • Nance says:

      Would you mind offering citations of scripture and resources for your claims?

  2. morsec0de says:

    “Is it always wrong to believe something for which one lacks sufficient evidence?”

    I think it is fine to believe something for which you don’t have enough evidence. What you shouldn’t do is claim to know something for which you don’t have enough evidence.

    “Science relies upon the allowance and acceptance of this type of faith.”

    That’s not faith. It’s conditional acceptance.

    I can conditionally accept the fact that when I drop something, gravity will pull it towards the center of the Earth’s gravity, giving me the impression that it is falling down to the ground. However, for all I know, tomorrow I could drop something and it will float into the air. All the evidence and experience I have says that the object I drop will fall…but as a limited being I have to accept the possibility that things could happen differently.

    That possibility, even though it is infinitesimal, exists. And so I can say that we conditionally accept the existence of gravity. But I don’t hold that opinion based on faith. I hold it because the evidence we have backs it up. And should the evidence ever fail to back it up, I reserve the right to change my mind.

    • Nance says:

      Anytime someone believes something without sufficient evidence is it conditional acceptance? Or does this only apply to empiricle data?

      • morsec0de says:

        Define “sufficient evidence”.

        My explanation was that there is more than enough evidence to be sufficient, but still acknowledging the fact that new evidence could potentially be found to contradict what you think you know.

        If, for example, all you had was anecdotal evidence, then I would say you didn’t have sufficient evidence and were relying on faith.

  3. Good post. And the responses by MC are good for anyone who thinks Hume is old news. BTW – it’s “versus”. 🙂

  4. Nance says:

    Clifford never defined “sufficient evidence.” That was my point in the first section. Further, if one’s intellect has been coreced to belief through “sufficient evidence” one’s belief is guaranteed and crosses over from belief to knowledge. Belief requires an element of will. If I have proof of a thing, then it no longer requires faith for belief.

    Now, to extrapolate your application of conditional acceptance in like matters, should one say that “I have conditional acceptance that God exists”, or should I say that “I have faith that God exists”? Are the two statements equal in your view? Because given your definition of conditional acceptance, I would have to say that I could agree with the former. Either way, acceptance of the existence as truth requires an act of the will allowing for accountability.

  5. bobxxxx says:

    “Whether one believes evolution theory to be true or false, it is certain that one believes or disbelieves with an element of faith.”


    Evolution is a basic scientific fact because no other concept has so many mountains of evidence. Ideas like evolution, which has been repeatedly proven beyond any doubt, does not require any faith at all. Faith is for idiotic childish ideas like “God-Did-It.”

    • Nance says:

      bob, your comment has been edited for profanity. If you wish to participate in the discussion, you must conduct yourself with an irenic manner or you will be banned from the site.

  6. pelagian7 says:

    I assume you mean the Biblical rather than the leading questions.

    In chapter 23 of Matthew, Jesus rants at the scribes and Pharisees. He calls them hypocrites, serpents and vipers. He says similiar in the other gospels.

    Halley’s Bible Handbook, Zondervan, pg.445
    Chapter 23. Woe to the scribes and Pharisees
    “Pharisees were the most numerous and influential of the religious sects of Jesus’ day. They were strict legalists. They stood for the rigid observance of the letter and forms of the law, and also for the traditions. There were some good men among them. But in the main they were known for their covetousness, self-rightousness and hypocrisy.
    Scribes were copyists of the scriptures. . . These words of Jesus, constitute the most bitter denunciation that ever fell from his lips.”

    In the, Encyclopedia of symbolism, viper or serpent are described as deceivers, hypocrites, evil and liars. (I can’t qoute exactly, the book is at the library, ref.)

    This and an earlier verse in Matthew encapsulate my distrust of scripture. It also accounts for my passion to stop the self-rightous, rigid, letter of the scripture interpreters of today. The Pharisees quoted scripture to support their position and teach. Jesus said that to teach truth he would use parables. [He knew quoting scripture was void of humanity. (my opinion)]

    Read some New Testament scholars for authenticity of the Bible. Most credit Paul with only seven letters and the Marcion info came off a web site devoted to the writings of early church fathers. If you read apologetic excuses you will have the party line substantiated but if you want to really secure your faith read other theories.

    I have much to give, and when I stumble across the sources I’ll give them to you. My wife freaks out, because she was sold a perfect doctrine. I understand, it was hard for me too. But, like Jesus said, the road to salvation is narrow and few find it.

    Chapter 6, I think, Jesus condemns those who seek the kingdom using his name. He points out that we will be judged by our fruit. Fruit, of course, is proof of our labors. He says those who profess alone, are false prophets.

    I don’t view scripture as inerrant, but I think much can be garnered from it.

    • Nance says:

      First, you assume incorrectly. I said what I meant. As I am sure you did as well. How do you justify the assumption that the writers of the Bible do not?

      Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for the religious leaders of the day because their teaching was false, not because they were quoting scripture. Jesus quoted scripture often in his communications. He taught in parables as storytelling was and still is a common teaching tool for communicators. Your research is accurate regarding the symbolism. However, I still do not see how this passage supports your assertion that Jesus “warns against the seekers of wisdom.”

      To state that most scholars credit Paul with only seven letters seems to be a misleading generalization. I would have to ask from what pool of scholars are you drawing your conclusion? Thank you for the encouragement to read up on the authenticity of the Bible. Do you have any favorite authors to recommend?

      “Chapter 6, I think, Jesus condemns those who seek the kingdom using his name. He points out that we will be judged by our fruit. Fruit, of course, is proof of our labors. He says those who profess alone, are false prophets.”

      Not finding your reference here. Help please.

  7. pelagian7 says:

    Saying what you mean or the disciples mean. That is a matter of interpretation. I can quote the Greek if you understand it. The LXX is easier to understand than English translations. Matthew7: 13-29 is some of the scripture I was referring to.

    If you were to learn, that what I say is true or likely true, would you accept it, or excuse it. If you are open to a new way, check the following authors. But it can be lonely.
    Bart Ehrman, Domminic Crossan, Elaine Pagels, Tom Harpur, Freke and Gandy, Smoley, Spong, Karen King, Eisenman, Maccoby, Hans Kung, or the heretical views of the early Christians. The shear number…
    Good luck, the truth I found allows me to believe that everyone who produces good fruit will be saved. I don’t have to convert someone to my religion because who we cast allegiance to is less important than our fruit.

  8. bobxxxx says:

    bob, your comment has been edited for profanity. If you wish to participate in the discussion, you must conduct yourself with an irenic manner or you will be banned from the site.


  9. pelagian7 says:

    “Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for the religious leaders of the day because their teaching was false, not because they were quoting scripture.” That is what the church kept saying to my argument, is it true?

    Again the Pharisees and scribes, ” They were strict legalists. They stood for the rigid observance of the letter and forms of the law, and also for the traditions.” [Zondervan]
    Of course Jesus used scripture. But in John 7: 15-24 Jesus displays his loathe of literal scripture and he uses hypocrisy to demonstrate it.

    (The New Jerusalem Bible, John 7: 15-24
    “How did he learn to read, he has not been educated. (Jesus answered them)
    (15), My teaching is not from myself: it comes from the one who sent me; anyone who is prepared to do his will, will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I speak on my own account. . .(20) “why do you want to kill me?” *the crowd replied, “you are mad! Who wants to kill you?” *Jesus answered, “One work I did, and you are all amazed at it. *Moses ordered you to practice circumcision–not that it began with him, it goes back to the patriarchs–and you circumcise on the Sabbath. *Now if someone can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses is not broken, why are you angry with me for making someone completely healthy on a Sabbath? *Do not keep judging according to appearances; let your judgement be according to what is right.” [Asterisks were dots in the Bible.]

    The letter of the Law, was to rest on the Sabbath. And that is how the Pharisees became hypocrites, they quoted the letter of the law but did not follow it themselves. No working or even asking someone else to work was permitted. Jesus is being condemned for healing on the Sabbath. Your view of Pharisees as hypocrites is accurate but you are leaving out an important aspect, they were hypocrites who propped up their position with scripture. In this and other verses Jesus demonstrates that scripture is a guide and the ultimate authority is our compassion, do what is right rather than the appearance of right; which is clearly not a literal interpretation of scripture in John 7.

    *Do not keep judging according to appearances; let your judgement be according to what is right.”
    Appearances were what the long tasseled Pharisees quoted rigidly. Appearances in English is arguable. The more literal Greek to english translation is ‘sight’ rather than appearances. Custom was orchestrated and routine, and scripture was written. These are the things they see with sight. Jesus instructs them to not make this their final judgement but to do what is right.

    Are we today supposed to judge based on the, ‘appearances’ or support by scripture or according to what is right.

    I mention the Greek text Septugiant, which means 70, LXX, because evidence of Paul not authoring is obvious in that form, not so in the translations. Paul consistently wrote to communities and addressed them as such; he also wrote in short, to the point sentences in the seven. The pastorals are written in paragraph long sentences with embellishments and some addressed to people. There are also references to hierarchy’s of the Church that are known not to exist in Pauls time. I’ve read this myself and will not quote somebody else. If you doubt me, as I would do, may I suggest, you do as Paul suggests, and check what I say. He said those who listened and checked the scriptures themselves were noble. Remember there was no canon, so scripture was any religious writing. Even if you argue the Old test. was alone scripture then, use that.

    I apologize for my redress, it is long winded but, whenever I assume someone will know which verses I write about I end up re-addressing that assumption. And of course, I believe, like all the rest of us, that I am right, making this my passion.[and I have found you, asking reasonable questions, with reasonable responses, so I don’t know what bobs problem was.]


  10. pelagian7 says:

    I must add that the Pharisees were not the religious leaders of the day. Sadducean Priests led the Temple. John 18, Acts 5:33-40, Acts 23, Acts 21:21 all give evidence that the Jews persequeting Jesus were Sadducees. They ran the sanhedrin courts.

    There were two groups of Pharisee sects, followers called Hillelites, and Shammaittes. The Shammaittes were rigid literal interpreters and along with the Sadducees they dominated the sanhedrin court. (New world encyclopedia) Some of Jesus followers were Pharisees, so why the attack? The scribes were also of Pharisee blood.

    The use of scripture, literally, is what seperated the two groups. Literalists were rigid and heartless. You see it is not that “the” Pharisee were hypocrites. But the practice of one division of Pharisee. So it was what set them apart that inspired the ire of Jesus.

    You’ll also notice in my previous thread, Jesus states his inspiration does not come from himself but from the father above. Jesus saw himself as a messiah (Jewish) which would have no trinitarial likeness.

    Other quotes can be used to affirm his divinity but if Church fathers produced documents, then said they were written by an apostle, they cannot be trusted. No, we should not dismiss everything, we need only lighten up on the rigid absolutism.

    • Nance says:

      Thanks for the food for thought. Normally I would write a lengthy reply as hermeneutics and apologetics are my passion. However, I just don’t have time do indulge at this juncture. I will say this. It is curious to me that you do not consider the Bible to be reliable, yet, spend a great deal of time researching it and on the other hand consider Ehrman and others to be trustworthy. Ehrman as your lead favorite is of particular intrest to me as his work is easily refuted by a first year biblical languages student. Even Steven Colbert could refute Ehrman and has. Twice. It would seem to me that it would be wise to put your trust in authors who can withstand peer review.

  11. pelagian7 says:

    My list was not a ranking, merely interesting views to consider. And taken individually each author could be refuted. Taken collectively the evidence becomes solid. I would enjoy your lengthy reply, this is my passion also.

    Don’t assume that because I believe the Bible is not inerrant, I do not believe.

    I have studied Nomina Sacra, Biblical Greek, Philo, Gnostic Christianity. . . Yet, I began a protestant considering the cloth, so I researched the literal renderings also.

    I find it curious you chose only to respond to Ehrman. What about John 7: and the scribes.

    Peer review, if Muslims reviewed your claims or authors they would refute all. Peer review is the domain of the victors, a majority, who have the dominant viewpoint. As a minority, detractors will always fail peer reviews. The common reply is “most” scholars agree that this. . .

    Reading some of your writings I recognized a great mind. Can I ask you this? Do my responses incite an emotional response? Can we think clearly when we are heavily influenced by emotion? Is your intellect refuting my claims or are your emotions? I have seriously considered whether I am right or wrong. Do you?

  12. Nance says:

    Anyone who knows me will tell you that “emotional” is not an adjective they would use to describe me. So, no offense, but no. Your argument lacks consistency. Muslim scholars would not qualify as biblical scholars and thus not meet the qualification of “peer”. I responded to Ehrman because he was the first you listed. I could shoot your question back at you, did you analyze these works or embrace them because they do not challenge your beliefs?

  13. pelagian7 says:

    See you are good at this. My reply-
    I felt moved by the spirit, yet, my Lutheran teachings didn’t feel right. I asked the pastor for help with the Bible. I read several books that were supposed to convince me of its accuracy.

    I began studying the Bible “KJV” then others and finally I studied Greek and looked at inter-linear Bibles. I read biographies of Luther and even Erasmus. I was desperate to believe like those around me. So, did I read only the books that didn’t challenge me? Everything was challenging and terrifying too.

    After accepting the possibility that what I was taught could be wrong, I began a systematic study. I began with cultures, history, myth-since it was a hellenistic culture in Jerusalem, Gnostic Gospels and Dead Sea Scrolls. . .

    You pointed out that Muslims would not be your peers. But they would say they are, as the fulfillment of Christianity. They just don’t believe what you do, so you reject them. I could say the same of you. But debating you would be more fun.

    • Nance says:

      Let me clarify. Muslims do not qualify as biblical scholars trained in higher textual criticism. Muslim scholars study the Qur’an voraciously, the Bible, not so much. I can tell that you enjoy discussion on this topic. May I suggest you join Theologica listed on my blogroll. Many scholars, pastors, lay people from varying backgrounds and depths of experience are ready and willing to discuss any variety of religious issues with you. You will find irenic discussion with people holding a wide variety of beliefs. I go there when I want to get answers for the tough questions. If you join, tag me as a friend!

  14. DennisVega says:

    Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! 🙂

  15. RobD says:

    Hey very nice blog!!….I’m an instant fan, I have bookmarked you and I’ll be checking back on a regular….See ya

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s